The Orioles wanted Kyle Gibson to do more than cover innings out of the rotation when they signed him as a free agent. They wanted to improve their chances of winning on the days that he pitched. They wanted his leadership in a clubhouse that lost influential veterans Jordan Lyles, Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos.
They sought a character guy, drawn to his makeup as much as his arm.
Gibson was the Phillies’ nominee last year for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award, bestowed annually to the player who best represents the sport through community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions on and off the field.
Per Major League Baseball, Gibson raised more than $108,000 for charities during his 1 ½ seasons in Philadelphia. His impact was immediate, his qualifications for the award indisputable.
Within his first week, Gibson invited teammates and fans to join him as he organized a campaign to assist local families and children struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through his #ALLWIN initiative, he made a personal donation for every win and strikeout through the rest of the season, with two local charities the biggest benefactors – “Cradles to Crayons,” which supports low-income and homeless children, and “Philabundance,” which serves those facing food insecurity in the Philadelphia area.
Gibson was just getting started.
There was the charity fantasy football league that he moved to Philadelphia. The virtual fundraiser to support “Help One Now,” an organization described as empowering families in developing countries to end extreme poverty. The time donated last spring training to the “Phillies Phantastic Auction” to raise money for the Phillies Charities, Inc. grant fund and the ALS Association-Greater Philadelphia Chapter.
By last April, Gibson had launched a new #ALLWIN Philadelphia Campaign for “Philabundance,” the area’s largest hunger relief organization. A month later was the start of a charitable program that supplied game tickets, food and outings for Phillies fans who might not have the means to attend a baseball game.
A press release touting Gibson’s qualifications for the Roberto Clemente Award noted how he’d meet with South Philadelphia youth groups, youth baseball teams and the Philadelphia Chapter of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. And how he kicked off a 2022 Philly Fantasy Football League and an indoor golf event, “Swinging for Impact,” partnering with former teammate Zach Eflin in August in Mt. Laurel, N.J.
Those funds benefited “Help One Now” and “Kisses for Kyle,” a charity that supports families whose children are battling cancer.
“He’s very well respected and one of, if not the most, active people in the charitable community,” said Phillies infield coach Bobby Dickerson, formerly the Orioles’ third base coach. “He a really thoughtful guy."
The $10 million contract that Gibson signed on Dec. 5 is the largest payout by the Orioles during executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias’ tenure in the organization.
The investment was made after the club did its homework on him, seeking information beyond stats that are readily available. Every person contacted spoke in glowing terms.
“He has a wonderful reputation around the league both as a clubhouse vet but also off the field and with media members,” Elias said. “Definitely is something that is well known and gives you a ton of comfort when you sign someone to be one of the most experienced players on a young team.”
Gibson and wife Elizabeth have a long history of giving and caring. It’s how they’re wired.
It’s all they know.
The couple has embarked on mission trips to Haiti and the Dominican Republic with the nonprofit “Big League Impact,” started in 2013 by former Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright. Gibson became vice president in 2017. The charity, in the most basic and impactful terms, helps people meet basic human needs such as food, clean water, medical care, shelter and education.
The Gibsons have fought human trafficking, assisting in the building of a secondary school in Haiti’s Ferrier Village that serves as a refuge for orphaned children who have been rescued from traffickers or who are at an elevated risk. School supplies and hot meals are provided.
The money has to come from somewhere, of course.
The hearts are always in the right place, wherever they call home.
Gibson also was the Twins’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award in 2019, when he raised more than $20,000 for the team’s Community Fund, provided more than 1,200 tickets to Christian and urban youth groups, and by hosting events for the Boys and Girls Club was able to raise more than $160,000 for the organization.
“Every city we play in, we try to find local initiatives to be involved with,” he said. “We believe that we’ve been in every city for a reason, whatever it is.”
The instinct and passion to help others less fortunate or to return a generous act was instilled in Gibson at a young age by his father Harold. Seeds planted in Indiana, where he grew up attending a Southern Baptist church.
Lessons that carried into adulthood and shaped the man he’d become.
“It’s been something that’s been important in my family ever since I was a kid,” Gibson said. “My dad started a travel baseball team that I played in for most of my youth, and whenever we wanted or needed a big donation from somebody and they agreed to do it, we ended up going and serving them somehow. I remember raking leaves in somebody’s two-acre back yard because he helped fund the team, and my dad’s like, ‘Listen, he’s not just giving it to us. We’re going to earn a little bit.’ And then doing camps and finding ways to give back to the community was always important in high school and college.
“My wife and I got to the point where we were drafted and had the finances to do other things. Our faith is just a big part of understanding that we’ve been given a lot and we have a responsibility to steward it in a biblical way and in a good way. That’s a big part of it is that we feel like we have the chance to offer some hope and give people a chance, maybe a second chance at life in some regards. And just a chance maybe to lift themselves out of poverty, and just a lot of the different things that we’ve done.”
This is a lot more than just signing some checks or lending a name to a cause. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Every action helps. But Gibson rolls up his sleeves and immerses himself in a project.
“We believe that we’ve been put in the position to have monetary abilities to help, and we also like to be invested time-wise, too, because we don’t like to just throw money at things,” he said. “We understand we only have so many years to use this platform that we’ve been given, and we feel like it’s important to try to maximize that as much as we can.”
Having that many balls in the air while also throwing one for a living, 10 seasons and counting in the majors, sounds exhausting and on occasion impossible with so many commitments. There are only so many directions a person can be pulled without beginning to fray.
Gibson leans heavily on the growing staff with “Big League Impact,” which coordinates much of the activity, whether it’s contacting donors or the charity, setting up silent auctions, and any number of tasks.
Also, Gibson abhors wasted minutes about as much as he does a grooved fastball or hanging curve.
“It’s just, not that it’s a misconception because we all are very busy, but any time we’re on the road, we have a lot of time,” Gibson said. “Depending on when you wake up, three to four hours before you go to the field. So, this will be the first year that we’re launching something called ‘Mission 318,’ where in every big league city we’re going to have a place where you can go serve if you want to go serve. So, whether it’s a food kitchen, a backpack packing program for food, every city in the league will have a place that we will be able to go and spend two hours in the morning if we want. And it’s little things like that that I feel like can really compound, and then kind of shows you, ‘OK, I really do have more time than I think here.’
“Sometimes, you’ve got to use it wisely, right? Like, I try to help my wife and sometimes I don’t use my time wisely when I’m sitting there doing nothing, but it’s not that I didn’t have time. It’s that I didn’t use it right. So, some of that is trying to figure out how you can prioritize that time and how to best use that time. But I also think it does have to be a priority. It has to be something that you’re going to say, ‘OK, we want to do this and we’re going to do it.’
“Just like anything in life, like this story here, if you put a priority on it, it’ll get done. You have other things you have to write about – a family, other things you have to do – and it’s the same thing with charity stuff. If it’s important you really want to get it done, you’ll find a way to do it. And Elizabeth does an awesome job of organizing a lot of the stuff we do. It takes a team. Whether it’s ‘Big League Impact’ staff or our family, it takes a team to do it.”
Gibson held the Tigers to one run over four innings yesterday and has a 2.00 ERA in three starts. He hasn’t walked a batter in nine innings, and the initial return on the Orioles’ investment in him could come on Opening Day in Boston.
The previous contract for Gibson, from the Rangers in December 2019, paid him $28 million over three seasons and ended his association with the Twins, who drafted him in the first round in 2009.
The ink barely had dried on the Orioles deal and Gibson already was considering ways to make a positive impact on Baltimore and the surrounding areas.
“We’re going to find a couple local initiatives. Maybe more than a couple to be involved with. And try to use the time in each city for a bigger purpose,” he said.
“Also, the thing that ‘Big League Impact’ is so good at is, we give fans a chance to be involved, as well, so we’ll have a campaign that donates for every team win here to charity. If fans go to the website, they can donate a dollar a win, or 50 cents a win, and they can jump on board. I don’t think we’ve picked a charity yet, but it might be feeding people who are hungry, it might be helping single mothers that are affected by domestic violence. Whatever it might be. It’s also offering opportunities like that that allows other people from outside to feel like they’re a part of something bigger.
“We’ll absolutely be involved in multiple things in Baltimore.”
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